Junior on the Move, Tony Finds His Groove

Kahne Goes Up in Smoke

Kasey Kahne was a good bet to drive the Budweiser Ford into Victory Lane. But after leading a race-best 114 laps, the Ford driver was parked when his FR9 engine failed (photo courtesy:Drew Hallowell, Getty Images Sport)

While Jimmie Johnson’s second consecutive win reminded followers that he belongs in the Sprint Cup Championship conversation, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch all are among the NASCAR stars seeking Miami glory Nov. 21 in South Florida. It is fitting that at the halfway point of the 2010 Sprint Cup season, tickets for NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway will go on sale THIS Saturday, July 3, via THEChampionshipTrack.com and (866) 409-RACE.

“On top of hosting Championship events each year, we do so while offering an average ticket price well below that of these other major sporting Championships," said Homestead-Miami Speedway President Matthew Becherer. "Toss in our free parking, kids-free pricing opportunities, and bring-your-own-food-and-beverage policy for both the NASCAR and IndyCar Championship weekends, and that’s as fan-friendly and value-driven an approach as you’ll find in big-league sports for a Championship event. And come this Saturday, all the best seats are available by visiting THEChampionshipTrack.com or calling (866) 409-RACE.”

NASCAR’s Top 12 drivers in the points standings as of Race 26 will qualify for the Chase “playoffs” that culminate with a Champion being crowned in Miami Nov. 21. Sunday at Loudon, Johnson won Race 17 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend in Miami, somewhat quieting critics hailing Hamlin and others as more likely to be crowned 2010 Champion. Both drivers have a series-high five wins, with each win good for 10 bonus points after the Chase points-standings “reset.” Harvick and Kurt Busch also rank as serious contenders on the strength of seven Top 5 finishes each.

Whether or not Earnhardt Jr. is a legit title contender remains to be seen, but his results in the last three races have put him on the cusp of a Chase spot. Junior entered those three races (Michigan, Sonoma and New Hampshire, respectively) with a career average finish of nearly 16th place. And yet he finished seventh at Michigan, 11th at Sonoma and eighth at Loudon.

With the driver of the No. 88 performing better at tracks that have historically given him problems is encouraging news for Junior Nation—especially with favored-track Daytona this weekend, and Earnhardt just three points back of 12th place in the standings..

"Lance [McGrew] is doing a great job,” Earnhardt Jr said of his crew chief. “The biggest difference in the last couple of weeks is that the cars unloaded really good aside from [Sonoma], but that was probably all me; I could unload with a diamond there and still not be in the Top 10 in practice.

“We've been unloading good cars and don't have to work our ass off to find little things to make us even more competitive. We're unloading Top 10 cars at the beginning of the week. The next step for us, I guess, is to try to make the improvements from there.''

Stewart registered his fourth straight Top 10 finish at Loudon, continuing a pattern of heating up in the summer months. And for much of Race 17 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend in Miami, Kasey Kahne was a good bet to drive the Budweiser Ford into Victory Lane. But after leading a race-best 114 laps, the Ford driver was parked when his FR9 engine failed.

“We had a fast Budweiser Ford,” said Kahne who was charging towards a Chase spot the past two weeks, finishing second at Michigan and fourth at Infineon. “It was nice to drive, but we just had another mechanical failure.

“It’s tough. We’ve been doing pretty good points-wise, and that hurts again, but we can keep going for it. We’ve still got time. I made up 130 points in five races [in 2009], so I can do it again.”

With nine races to go before the “playoff” field is set, just 99 points separate points spots 12 (Carl Edwards) through 16 (Joey Logano) in the points standings, and just 174 points separate 12th place from 20th-place Kahne. Lock in tickets to see the Champion crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway beginning THIS Saturday, July 3, via THEChampionshipTrack.com and (866) 409-RACE.

It’s clear how many of NASCAR’s top drivers remain in the hunt for the Sprint Cup Championship—to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21—including four-time Sprint Cup Champions Johnson and Gordon; former champions Stewart and Busch; fan-favorite Mark Martin; South Florida’s own Juan Pablo Montoya (see sidebar); and a trio of Ford Racing drivers (Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Edwards) who are looking to shine on their sponsor’s Miami territory.

Contenders for the Ford Championship Weekend crown will be unveiled after Race 26 at Richmond. Lock in tickets to see the Champion crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway beginning THIS Saturday, July 3, via THEChampionshipTrack.com and (866) 409-RACE.

NASCAR’s elite take another step toward Miami glory Saturday night at Daytona (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT-TV, MRN Radio), for Race 18 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). Tickets to see NASCAR’s Champions crowned go on sale to the general public THIS Saturday, July 3 (renewal deadline is June 30). For tickets and more information, visit THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.

On the Move: South Florida’s Montoya

Bad Luck for Montoya at New Hampshire

“It was just one of deals where I’m not surprised; coming from Reed I wasn’t surprised, to be honest.”
--South Florida-resident Juan Pablo Montoya, who was in contention for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup race win until late-race contact with Reed Sorenson

South Florida-resident Juan Pablo Montoya captured his first pole of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season Friday at New Hampshire in looking to make up ground in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship standings. But it was not to be, as NASCAR journeyman Reed Sorenson slid into Montoya late in the race as the two were racing side-by-side in Turn 3. The contact sent the pole-sitting No. 42 hard into the wall and out of the race.

Said Montoya: “I don’t know, they told me [Sorenson] turned right. I don’t know….It is a shame because everybody is a lap down. I am running around the outside. I’m not bumping, I’m not making it tight, and he turns right before he braked. It was just one of deals where I’m not surprised; coming from Reed I wasn’t surprised, to be honest.”

Montoya also had contact on multiple occasions with Jeff Gordon, who will be seeking his fifth Sprint Cup Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway this fall. Lock in tickets to see the Champion crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway beginning THIS Saturday, July 3, via THEChampionshipTrack.com and (866) 409-RACE.

“The guy that really messed me up was the No. 24,” Montoya added. “…It was the end of the race, and nobody gives you any room and that is what happens….He just didn’t give me any room, he never does. He has it coming one day.”

After Race 17 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend in Miami, Montoya is 183 points outside the Top 12 overall points cut-off to qualify for the Sprint Cup “playoffs” that culminate on his “home track” this November. He has nine races remaining to accomplish the feat. It is worth noting that one year ago, he rattled off nine Top 10s in a span of 14 races to vault from 15th to a Chase spot.

Of his chances to make the Chase, Montoya said over the weekend: “We are looking to finish as high as we can, but we have to finish. We can’t afford to get DNFs. We have really fast race cars every week. We’ve been involved in a lot of wrecks that weren’t my fault. It is part of what racing is.”

Indeed, Montoya has started all 17 races of the Sprint Cup season but has fallen victim to an inordinate amount of engine issues and on-track tangling—which makes the following stat all the more remarkable: The driver of the No. 42 has finished in the Top 10 of all but one 2010 race in which he has completed all scheduled laps. Included in that run for South Florida’s hometown’er are four Top 5s. Montoya’s next opportunity to gain points comes next weekend at Daytona—Race 18 of 36 en route to NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 19-21. Lock in tickets to see the Champion crowned in Miami beginning THIS Saturday, July 3, via THEChampionshipTrack.com and (866) 409-RACE.

Follow Montoya on Twitter

@jpmontoya June 27, 1:29 PM: "The story of our season..."

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